Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The science behind Skyrim ingredients

One of my favourite aspects of the Elder Scrolls series is the ability to be an alchemist, combining strange and wonderful ingredients (mmmm…ectoplasm) to make potions and poisons. In real life, alchemy is a bunch of hooey, but the desire to transform relatively worthless materials into gold inadvertently brought about a substantial expansion our knowledge of chemistry. For example, Greek alchemists were among the first folks to figure out distillation (Schwartz and Kauffman, 1976), a chemical technique used to separate mixtures based on the differing boiling points of their components (applications of which include the production of gasoline from crude oil, pure oxygen from air, and brandy from wine).

I'm particularly drawn to the actual pharmacology, toxicology, and nutrition science (and lack thereof) behind the ingredients used in Skyrim. It's a neat opportunity to investigate a wide range of potentially cool science things, and I'm rarely one to turn down the opportunity to compile a big, utterly time-consuming, and mostly useless (the exception being to entertain and slightly educate you, dear reader) laundry list of science tidbits concerning a popular video game. Let's do this.

Notes:
- For now, I'm ignoring any ingredients introduced by the add-ons (I haven't played them yet and don't want to spoil anything; also, it's already a long list)
- To keep this endeavour at least somewhat interesting, if an ingredient is fictitious I've looked for an interesting real life substitute to talk about
- Here's a cool blog post about the geology of Skyrim

Abecean Longfish / Cyrodilic Spadetail / Histcarp / River Betty / Silverside Perch
- As far as I can tell, none of these are real (although the name silver perch refers to at least three different fishes: [1][2][3])
- In my view as an entirely uneducated non-fishkeeper, they all somewhat resemble members of the genus Betta (e.g. Betta splendens, the Siamese fighting fish)
- Small fish found in dark caves often have interesting adaptations, which include the loss of functional eyes, pigmentation, and circadian rhythms (Moran et al., 2014)
- Fun and very slightly relevant fact: Unlike larger fish such as tuna, sardines or anchovies tend to contain less mercury while still providing a good source of essential fatty acids (I can personally vouch for the decadence that is a BLAST sandwich, a BLT made with avocado and sardines)

Bear Claws
- The only part of a bear with an even somewhat legitimate medical use is its bile, a liquid produced in the gallbladders of mammals that aids in digestion and makes your poop brown
- Bile contains ursodiol (ursodeoxycholic acid, or UDCA), which is used to treat certain ailments of the gallbladder and liver (e.g. primary biliary cirrhosis, a nasty autoimmune disease that lets you enjoy a terrible consequence of alcoholism without the actual dedicated alcohol consumption) (Kaplan et al., 2004)
- However, not only is ursodiol found in the bile of other mammals, it is readily chemically synthesized, so there is absolutely no need to use bear bile, the demand for which drives a cruel industry (Feng et al., 2009)
- Bear-friendly chocolate option!

Bee / Beehive Husk / Honeycomb
- Bee venom (administered via live honeybee stings) is used to relieve pain and treat a variety of diseases including arthritis (Chen and Lariviere, 2010)
- Honey has antimicrobial properties and can kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria (Kwakman et al., 2008)
- Medical-grade honey, which is produced in closed greenhouses to standardize its quality, can be used as a topical medication (i.e. applied locally) to treat infected wounds (Kwakman et al., 2011)

Honeybees hanging out on their comb (Source)

Bleeding Crown / Blisterwort / Fly Amanita / Glowing Mushroom / Imp Stool / Mora Tapinella / Namira's Rot / Scaly Pholiota / Swamp Fungal Pod / White Cap 
- Of these, only Fly Amanita, Mora Tapinella, and Scaly Pholiota refer to real mushrooms
- Fly Amanita is also known as Amanita muscaria, perhaps the most famous of all mushrooms due to its distinctive large red cap covered with white spots and psychoactive effects
- Mora Tapinella probably refers to boletes (capped mushrooms with a sponge-like underside instead of gills) belonging to the genus Tapinella, which are known to grow on tree stumps
- Scaly Pholiota (named for the small scales covering its cap and stem) is a common name for Pholiota squarrosa, which is poisonous and commonly found growing in clusters on stumps or at the base of living trees (which it eats)
- Bleeding Crown resembles Coprinopsis atramentaria, better known as the common ink cap (so named because its cap liquifies into a black goo ('bleeds') after opening), which is poisonous but only if consumed with booze (it contains a molecule, coprine, that inhibits the ability of your liver to process alcohol)
- Blisterwort and Namira's Rot both kinda look like an unreasonably long-stemmed portobello, a tasty strain of Agaricus bisporus (another strain of which is the ubiquitous white button mushroom)
- Glowing Mushroom seems to be a fictitious equivalent of Panellus stipticus (a bioluminescent pleurotoid fungus found growing on trees, not the rock walls of a moonstone mine) with a couple of severely elongated versions of the spines possessed by edible teeth mushrooms of the genus Hericium tacked on for show
- Imp Stool sounds like a nasty poop but otherwise reminds me of the honey fungus (genus Armillaria), which can infect and kill living trees (as opposed to simply living off of dead ones) and apparently tastes delicious
- Swamp Fungal Pods are reminiscent of earthstars such as Geastrum saccatum, which tends to grow in forests as opposed to swamps (though often in clusters)
- White Cap resembles several potentially lethal white mushrooms closely related to Fly Amanita (e.g. Amanita phalloides), each of which is known as the destroying angel because they contain amatoxins that cause liver and kidney damage, often leading to death

Blue Butterfly Wing / Butterfly Wing / Luna Moth Wing
- First things first, a video detailing the differences between butterflies and moths
- There are many butterfly species with blue colouration
- The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is real, although it seems to be disappearing
- Because their larvae feed on milkweed, which contains cardenolide aglycones capable of causing heart problems, Monarchs are poisonous (certain predators work around this problem by not eating the more poisonous parts of the butterfly)
- The Luna Moth (Actias luna) is real, is one of the largest moths in North America, and only lives about a week in its magnificent adult form because it lacks a mouth to eat with and exists only to pass on its genes ASAP

Luna moth (Actias luna) (Source)

Blue/Orange Dartwing
- Some species of dragonflies are called darters (e.g. the Common Darter)
- Examples of blue and orange dragonflies are the Emperor and the Flame Skimmer, respectively
- Dragonflies are/were eaten in Bali, where they are/were captured using sticky sap from the jackfruit tree to ensnare them (Pemberton, 1995)
- Prior to the early 1940s, dragonflies (e.g. Gomphus vulgatissimus) were also eaten in northern Italy (Piedmont), where children would catch adult dragonflies, rip them open, and suck out their guts (which they called 'dragonfly tuna') (Fontaneto et al., 2011)

Blue/Purple/Red Mountain Flower
- Similar in appearance to flowering plants of the genus Castilleja
- Otherwise reminiscent of perennials known as glory-of-the-snow (genus Chionodoxa), which are found at high altitudes and bloom in early spring, even as the snow is still melting
- Bulbs of Chionodoxa luciliae contain compounds called lucilianosides that have been shown to kill cancer cells (Kuroda et al., 2002), but this doesn't appear to have led to anything so far in terms of drug development

Bone Meal
- Essentially ground up animal bones, often with other unusable animal parts tossed in for good measure
- Can be used as a dietary calcium supplement, but this is no longer recommended due to the risk of contamination with toxic metals (introduced during its preparation, e.g. from metal grinding parts) or harmful pathogens present in the animals it was prepared from (e.g. Salmonella bacteria or the prions causing Mad Cow Disease)

Briar Heart
- If you want to get really technical (and I sure do!), the plastic parts of artificial hearts in use today were likely derived from crude oil that in turn was derived at least in part from ancient plants, which may have looked something like this ingredient
- Fun and very slightly relevant fact: Early heart transplant efforts involved the use of baboon and chimpanzee hearts to provide temporary support in patients with failing hearts! (Barnard and Cooper, 1981)
- Otherwise reminiscent of the rosette of houseleeks, succulent plants of the genus Sempervivum, some of which produce compounds capable of inhibiting the growth of microorganisms (Abram and Donko, 1999)

A houseleek, looking decidedly like a briar heart (Source)

Canis Root
- Since nature is a meanie, many plants have sharp pointy bits
- Thorns are derived from branches or stems, and spines are modified leaves, but I can't find any examples of pointy root things (help?)
- May be a reference to the fictional 'tannis root' featured in Rosemary's Baby
- The bush it is acquired from in the game reminds me of bristlecone pines, which similarly grow in rocky soils and have shallow and highly branched roots (and are among the oldest single living organisms known)

Charred Skeever Hide / Skeever Tail
- Rodent meat is consumed throughout the world, providing a source of protein (Fiedler, 1990)
- As they are easily accessible, the tails of mice and rats have been used by researchers as a cancer model and a source of cells and tissues for experiments (e.g. vascular smooth muscle cells, fibroblasts, tendons) (e.g. Rutkowski et al., 2006; Takahashi and Yamanaka, 2006)
- There's also the tail flick test, which is used by researchers to study pain and measure how effective a painkiller is

Chaurus Egg / Chicken's Egg / Pine Thrush Egg / Rock Warbler Egg
- Chaurus Egg is the purely fictional devil spawn of what I expect would have happened in The Fly if it had been an earwig trapped in the machine with Goldblum instead of a fly (incidentally, the egg sacs look like a cross between the eggs from Alien, cauliflower, and an all-cyan version of Lite-Brite)
- Chicken's Egg is a culinary staple rich in protein and choline, featured in such dishes as quiche, the breakfast burrito, and spaghetti alla carbonara
- Pine Thrush Egg likely refers to the enclosed and incubating offspring of the Wood Thrush
- Rock Warbler Egg may refer to the ovoid consequence of reproduction by the Rockwarbler, found exclusively in New South Wales, a state in Australia

Creep Cluster
- Fictional, but resembles a wildly growing mutant version of the starfish fungus (Aseroe rubra), which is native to Australia, stinks of rotten meat in order to attract flies to spread its spores, and has no known medical or nutritional value

Starfish fungus (Aseroa rubra) (Source)

Daedra Heart
- I can't speak to the superficial anatomical differences between a daedra heart and a human heart, but I would encourage any anatomists/cardiologists out there to chime in with their thoughts on the matter
- From a nutritional standpoint, heart is extremely rich in vitamin B12 and a good source of iron and zinc (Williams, 2007)

Deathbell
- Fictional, but likely inspired by bluebells (genus Hyacinthoides) and creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) with a bit of pine cone thrown in for good measure
- Flowers typically don't occur within other flowers, although double flower mutants are known and valued by horticulturalists because they look extra pretty
- As an aside, many flowing plants are poisonous, such as foxgloves (genus Digitalis) that produce heart-disrupting cardiac glycosides (e.g. digoxin, which is used to treat heart problems but is easy to overdose, leading to adverse effects such as yellow vision, which is hypothesized to have influenced van Gogh's paintings, or potentially lethal arrhythmias) (Arnold and Loftus, 1991)

Dragon's Tongue
- Fictional, but something along the lines of a yellow Lady's slipper orchid (subfamily Cypripedioideae) crossed with Dichanthelium lanuginosum, a flowering grass found growing in a three-way symbiosis with a fungus and a virus near hot springs in Yellowstone and can survive in soils heated up to 65°C (149°F) (Stout and Al-Niemi, 2002; Márquez et al., 2007)
- Cypripedium macranthos, a species of lady's slipper, produces antifungal compounds thought to stave off infection by a soil fungus involved in the germination of this plant (Shimura et al., 2007)

Dwarven Oil
- Probably either a kerosene-like fuel or a thicker oil used for lubrication
- Mineral oils, which are derived from crude oil and used as lubricants, are carcinogenic unless they are sufficiently refined to remove the cancer-causing components (Doak et al., 1983)
- A high incidence of scrotal cancer occurred among those working on spinning mules, machines commonly used during the Industrial Revolution to spin textile fibres into yarn that would give off a mist of mineral oil at crotch height when in use (Waldron, 1983)

Ectoplasm
- Possible analogs include plasmodia (the macroscopic feeding stage of slime moulds such as Fuligo septica, the delightfully named dog vomit slime mould), biofilms (dense aggregates formed by microorganisms such as bacteria and yeasts), external mucus produced by snails and slugs, and mucus produced by the respiratory, digestive, and reproductive systems within animals
- Because they're really cool, more slime moulds: [1][2], [3]
-The slime mould Physarum polycephalum produces a biodegradable, nontoxic, and nonimmunogenic (i.e. doesn't activate the immune sytem) polymer called beta-poly(L-malic acid), which has been used to manufacture a substance called Polycefin designed to deliver drugs to brain tumours (Lee, 2006)

Slime mould (Source)

Elves Ear
- Reminds me of bay leaves (refers to several plants, though often Laurus nobilis), which are typically dried and used as a spice
- Compounds extracted from the leaves of Laurus nobilis (bay laurel) have been shown to kill human melanoma cells (Panza et al., 2011), promote wound healing in rats (Nayak et al., 2006), and protect mice against seizures (it's an antiepileptic remedy in Iranian traditional medicine) (Sayyah et al., 2002)
- Incidentally, organisms named after ears include elf-ear lichen, cloud ear fungus, pig's ears (Gomphus clavatus),  hare's ear mustards (genus Conringia), woolly mule's ears (Wyethia mollis, a flowering plant), elephant ear (genus Colocasia), and donkey ear (Kalanchoe gastonis-bonnieri)

Eye of Sabre Cat / Sabre Cat Tooth
- Sabre-toothed cats, while bad ass, are no longer around (e.g. Homotherium and Smilodon each went extinct around 10,000 years ago)
- The eyes and teeth of big cats that are still around (e.g. tigers) have no obvious medical or nutritional value

Falmer Ear
- The best I can do is an enlarged bat ear, which would be cool to examine but wouldn't likely be medically or nutritionally useful (although maybe it'd have a bit of protein/fat on it)
- Cooked pig's ear is found in cuisines all over the world

Virginia big-eared bat (Source)

Fire Salts
- A possible analog is ammonium dichromate, a carcinogenic orange-red salt that erupts violently when ignited due to it being thermodynamically unstable (i.e. it's all set to break apart, it just needs a bit of energy to get going)
- Ingesting ammonium dichromate (which has tragically happened to at least one toddler) can result in multiple organ failure and death (Meert et al., 1994)

Frost Mirriam
- Fictional, but it's as if parsley, coriander (cilantro), celery, and chervil (all of which are cooking ingredients) had a giant baby together
- Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) has traditionally been used to treat diabetes, and has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels in mice and stimulate insulin secretion from cell cultures (Gray and Flatt, 1999)

Frost Salts
- Reminds me of sel gris, a type of sea salt that includes a bit of sediment and thus appears slightly grey
- Sea salt is basically table salt (sodium chloride), but with less iodine (an essential nutrient that is intentionally added to table salt to prevent goiter and adverse effects on growth and development (e.g. cretinism) due to iodine deficiency) (Hetzel, 2002) and more trace elements (Drake and Drake, 2011)

Garlic
- Although garlic consumption is associated with lower blood pressure, it has not been linked to a lower risk of heart problems in folks with high blood pressure (Stabler et al., 2012)
- Preemptive garlic consumption may reduce your likelihood of catching a cold (Lissiman et al., 2012)

Giant Lichen
- A lichen is a fungus that has an algae living inside of it (the fungus eats food that the algae synthesizes using the sun's energy)
- Members of the genus Cladonia produce stalks that are similar to those found in the game, although these are much, much smaller and lack a flat plate-like base
- Cladonia lichen are an important food source for reindeer and caribou, and have also been eaten by people during food shortages in Scandinavia (Airaksinen et al., 1986)
- In other lichen-eating news, Lecanora esculenta has been proposed to be the 'manna' referred to in Exodus 16 of the bible (Airaksinen et al., 1986), Wila (Bryoria fremontii) is a traditional food for many First Nations, and Rock tripe (genus Umbilicaria) is eaten throughout East Asia
- Cetraria islandica (Iceland moss, which is actually a lichen) was historically used in Norway and Iceland to make bread and dessert jelly (it consists mostly of carbohydrates; apparently it pairs well with cranberries since they help mask its bitter taste, which is due to the presence of toxic lichen acids that are mostly removed by soaking with a basic ash solution prior to eating), and has been use as an emergency food as recently as World War I (Airaksinen et al., 1986)
- Lichens are known to concentrate heavy metals, such that their consumption can cause metal poisoning (Tyler, 1989)

Giant's Toe
- How about the big toe of Andre the Giant? Or Robert Wadlow? No medicinal properties to speak of, unless you count the life-affirming effects of the famous sourtoe cocktail
- I suspect that such a toe would be absolutely riddled with potentially pathogenic bacteria and fungi, on account of Giants likely not practicing the most optimal of hygiene and a detached toe representing a venerable feast for microbes, provided it doesn't dry out or end up preserved in alcohol or formaldehyde (now that I think about it, any of the fleshy/meaty ingredients in the game would realistically be riddled with bugs and stink to high heaven, unless there's a refrigeration spell in constant effect that I don't know about)

Behold, the Yukon sourtoe! (Source)

Glow Dust
- I bet it's like the activated goo found in glowsticks, only magical
- Another real possibility is luminous bacteria (e.g. Photobacterium phosphoreum), which are widespread in marine environments and responsible for epic milky seas

Grass Pod
- May be inspired by shrubs of the genus Yucca, which have spiky leaves and a tall central stem from which flowers develop and subsequently form seed pods
- Harvested in game from Spiky Grass that grows near water, so it matches particularly well with Yucca filamentosa, which is native to coastal areas in the southeastern United States (Svensson et al., 2005)
- Yucca schidigera is used in Native American traditional medicine to treat arthritis and contains compounds that kill protozoa (e.g. Giardia lamblia) and inhibit inflammation (Cheeke et al., 2006)

Hagraven Claw / Hagraven Feathers / Hawk Beak / Hawk Feathers
- I'm grouping these together because hagravens, while fictitious, are half-bird
- Chicken feet are eaten in many parts of the world, but there doesn't appear to be much in the way of flesh on the Hagraven Claw
- I can't find anything to suggest that beaks or feathers are of any medical or nutritional value, as they're mostly made of keratin and therefore difficult to eat unless you're a specialized bacterium or fungus
- Birds have a special gland (the uropygial gland) that secretes an antimicrobial oil that they apply to their feathers, likely in part to prevent microbes from eating them (Martín-Vivaldi et al., 2010)

Hanging Moss
- A moss is a plant that does not produce flowers, seeds, or vascular tissue, and tends to grow in short clumps where it is damp
- While at least one type of moss (Antitrichia curtipendula) hangs from trees, other non-moss organisms that hang from trees and sometimes get called mosses anyway include flowering plants (e.g. Spanish moss) and lichens (e.g. Bryoria fremontii, Dolichousnea longissima, and species of the genus Usnea)
- Mosses of the genus Sphagnum are a major component of peatlands (and peat), have historically been used as wound dressings (their high acidity can inhibit the growth of bacteria), and can provide a habitat for the pathogenic fungus Sporothrix schenckii that can cause nasty skin lesions (and worse) (Dixon et al., 1991; Stalheim et al., 2009)

Human Flesh / Human Heart
- Meat is meat, so these ingredients represent a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals
- As mentioned previously, from a nutritional standpoint heart is extremely rich in vitamin B12 and a good source of iron and zinc (Williams, 2007)

Ice Wraith Teeth
- Looks like canine teeth (the pointy ones), which are used to tear food apart and as weapons
- A Narwhal's tusk is technically an extremely elongated upper canine tooth
- Teeth, like bone, contain calcium and so could theoretically serve as a dietary source of this element

Jazbay Grapes
- In agreement with the location of these grapes on rocky outcroppings near hot springs in the game, Vitis vinifera (common grape vine) is a fairly tough plant that can grow in subtropical regions (i.e. hot temperatures) and in rocky soils (Lavee, 2000)
- In addition to providing grapes for eating and wine making, the sap and leaves of grapevines have traditionally been used to treat a variety of conditions
- Grapes contain compounds that can inhibit inflammation and may benefit those with type 2 diabetes by reducing insulin levels (Zunino et al., 2009)

Juniper Berries
- Junipers are evergreen plants of the genus Juniperus that produce seed cones with fleshy scales that fuse together to form what looks like a berry but is technically not a berry
- Juniper berries are eaten in a variety of dishes (particularly ones that contain meat) and are used to flavor gin and regional European beers such as sahti
- Juniperus communis (common juniper) has traditionally been used to increase urine production (i.e. as a diuretic), kill microbes (e.g. kidney infections), induce abortion, and treat diabetes (Thomas et al., 2007)

Juniper plant (Source)

Large Antlers / Small Antlers
- Antlers have been used since ancient times to make tools, weapons, and other random things
- Deer antler base has been been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a wide range of ailments (Wu et al., 2013)

Lavender
- Collectively refers to flowering plants of the genus Lavandula (L. angustifolia being the most widely cultivated species)
- In the game, it is used along with horker meat, tomato, and garlic to cook horker stew
- In meatspace, it is typically added to desserts and salad dressings, and I can't find any mention of it being an important part of meat stews
- Incidentally, the Inuit eat walrus (which is basically horker), sometimes after it ferments in the ground for a year or so
- Lavender oil smells nice, inhibits the growth of certain bacteria and fungi (Tullio et al., 2007; Mayaud et al., 2008), can reduce inflammation in rats (Hajhashemi et al., 2003), and may help to alleviate anxiety (although the jury is still out) (Perry et al., 2012)

Moon Sugar
- Arguably the Elder Scrolls equivalent of cocaine (which makes skooma crack)
- Manufactured by the Khajiit in the Tenmar Forest, which corresponds nicely with cocaine being produced from coca plants grown partly in forested regions of the Andes in South America
- Unlike cocaine, which is an alkaloid and thus bitter, moon sugar is apparently sweet

Mudcrab Chitin
- Mudcrabs are basically Scylla serrata, an economically important (read: tasty) species of crab found in the Indo-Pacific (between South Africa and Australia), on steroids
- Chitin is a structural sugar-based polymer, akin to cellulose (found in plants), that in combination with calcium carbonate makes up the hard and stiff exoskeleton of crustaceans such as crabs
- Chitosan, a chitin derivative, is used in bandages and other wound dressings on account of its ability to stimulate blood clotting, promote wound healing by preventing dehydration and contamination, and inhibit microbial growth (wound infection) (Dai et al., 2011)

Nightshade
- Closely resembles Solanum dulcamara (bittersweet nightshade), which contains poisonous alkaloids
- Likely refers to deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), which has been employed as a poison since ancient times due to its production of toxic tropane alkaloids (e.g. atropine) that can cause dilated pupils (the Romans used it cosmetically via eye drops for this effect), confusion, agitation, visual hallucinations (it has seen use as a 'truth serum'), tachycardia (dangerously high heart rate), convulsions, coma, and DEATH (Joshi et al., 2003)
- Broadly speaking, nightshades are a huge family (Solanaceae) of flowering plants that include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, tobacco, and petunias

Bittersweet nightshade (Source)

Nirnroot / Crimson Nirnroot
- Reminds me of a dandelion, lacking its yellow flower, growing beneath a high voltage power line
- It's not quite an audible hum, but there is some evidence that plant roots can emit and respond to sounds (Gagliano et al., 2012)

Nordic Barnacle
- A barnacle is a marine arthropod related to crabs and lobsters that permanently attaches itself to hard surfaces and thereafter obtains food by capturing plankton and detritus suspended in the water around it using six pairs of feathery limbs
- Some barnacles can be eaten, e.g. Austromegabalanus psittacus is a large barnacle used in Chilean cuisine (e.g. curanto)
- The gunk that barnacles produce to anchor themselves to things is appropriately called barnacle cement, and has been investigated as a means of attaching antimicrobial polymers to the surfaces of biomedical devices (e.g. hip implants, pacemakers, artificial heart valves) in order to prevent the growth of bacterial biofilms and the failure of these devices (Yang et al., 2011)

Pearl / Small Pearl
- A great primer on pearls
- Cell culture studies indicate that pearl can stimulate bone formation (Shen et al., 2006)
- Ground up pearl (pearl powder) is used in traditional Chinese medicine and can serve as a dietary source of calcium (Chen et al., 2008)

Powdered Mammoth Tusk
- While mammoths are extinct, their skeletons (including tusks) have been found all over the world
- Being modified teeth (incisors), tusks contain pulp and nerves
- Not sure about nutritional or medicinal uses, but guessing they're bunk (maybe a dietary source of calcium if ground into powder)

Salt Pile
- Probably sodium chloride (table salt)
- High dietary sodium intake has been linked to elevated blood pressure (and thus increased risk of heart attack or stroke), but this link remains somewhat controversial (Sharma et al., 2014)

Slaughterfish Egg / Slaughterfish Scales
- Slaughterfish remind me of alligator gars (Atractosteus spatula), which have an alligator-like long snout with large, sharp teeth, are pretty darn big, and are amush predators capable of hunting ducks and small mammals that hang out in the water
- The eggs of alligator gars are bright red and poisonous (Goodger and Burns, 1980), but the eggs of other fish may be eaten (e.g. caviar)
- Alligator gar scales (diamond shaped ganoid scales) have been used to make arrowheads and jewelry (DiBenedetto, 2006)

Snowberries
- Snowberry is a common name for plants of the genus Symphoricarpos, berries of which can be white, pink, red, or dark violet
- Symphoricarpos albus is an important source of secologanin, a compound which is valuable because it (1) can serve as the precursor in the biosynthesis of thousands of different alkaloids and (2) possesses a wide range of functional groups that permit chemists to synthesize all sorts of interesting compounds that might make good drugs (Kim et al., 2004)
- However, snowberries in the game look a lot like European holly (Ilex aquifolium), a tough, highly adaptable plant that can live for hundreds of years and produces caffeine and theobromine (also found in chocolate) (Eteng et al., 1997)

Spider Egg
- Unlike the giant eggs in the game, spider eggs are typically about a millimeter in diameter (Anderson, 1990)
- Eggs of the Mediterranean black widow (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus) contain neurotoxic proteins that differ from those found in the venom glands of adult spiders (Yan et al., 2014)

Spider and eggs (Source)

Spriggan Sap
- Plant sap is a liquid consisting mostly of water and sugars, along with other organic compounds, that is transported throughout a plant via its vascular system
- Although there are no spriggans in the real world, sap from maple and birch trees is consumed as a beverage and can be fermented or reduced to make booze or syrup, respectively
- Maple sap contains a variety of phenolic compounds that show antioxidant activity and so may have some use against oxidative stress associated with many diseases including cancers and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Parkinson's), although this remains to be studied (Li and Seeram, 2011)

Taproot
- Most trees have a taproot early on in their lives, but it usually morphs into a more complex root system consisting of horizontal surface roots and a couple of vertical deep roots
- Roots are thought to be the main source of maple sap (used to make syrup), so there's that
- Roots of several tropical and subtropical legumes (e.g. Derris and Lonchocarpus) contain rotenone, a toxic compound that can be used to kill insects, arachnids, and fishes but also happens to cause brain damage in mammals (Wood et al., 2005; Pan-Montojo et al., 2010)
- Ingestion of rotenone-containing roots is apparently a common method of suicide in Papua New Guinea, with rotenone inhibiting the ability of cells to use oxygen, causing them to produce oxygen radical species that damage cells, leading to multiple organ failure and death (Wood et al., 2005)

Thistle Branch
- Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a widely used herb with a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine
- An extract from milk thistle seeds called silymarin has been demonstrated to protect liver cells against harmful agents including drugs (e.g. acetaminophen/paracetamol, which in overdose can damage the liver) (Muriel et al., 1992), poisons (e.g. amatoxins found in certain mushrooms that cause liver damage), and viruses (e.g. hepatitis C) (Polyak et al., 2010)

Torchbug Thorax
- Torchbugs are obviously a stand in for the many winged beetles belonging to the family Lampyridae that are commonly called fireflies or lightning bugs due to their production of visible light in their lower abdomen via bioluminescence (to attract mates)
- Some of these bugs produce lucibufagins, which resemble bufadienolides found in certain poisonous toads that can cause heart problems, and so are thought to deter predators (Eisner et al., 1978)

Troll Fat
- The closest I can get is lard (pig fat) or suet/tallow (typically cow or sheep fat)
- Obesity has been linked to a diet high in fat and calories, and in addition to being a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer, can also cause deficits in learning and memory
- Mice given a very high fat lard diet experienced brain inflammation and impaired cognition (Pistell et al., 2010)

Tundra Cotton
- While cotton typically refers to the fibre produced by shrubs of the genus Gossypium, which are native to tropical or subtropical regions, the best match to this ingredient is members of the genus Eriophorum (cottongrass) found in the Arctic tundra (e.g. Eriophorum callitrix, Arctic cotton)
- I can't find anything on the nutritive/medicinal/toxic qualities of Eriophorum plants, but Gossypium species produce a toxic compound called gossypol that can damage the heart and liver, has apparently seen use in China as an oral male contraceptive, and has been investigated as an anticancer drug (Joseph et al., 1986; Sunilkumar et al., 2006)
- Reducing gossypol production (e.g. by genetic engineering) could enable the use of cottonseed as a source of vegetable oil and protein in parts of the world where it can't readily be processed to remove the gossypol (Sunilkumar et al., 2006)

Cottongrass hanging out in the tundra (Source)

Vampire Dust
- Vampires aren't real, although anemia (not having enough red blood cells, and therefore needing more of them) can be caused by viral infections (Morinet et al., 2011)
- The combustion of dead bodies in crematoriums can produce toxic emissions including mercury (from dental fillings) and dioxins (from chlorine-containing plastics present as prosthetics or as part of the body container, and from the chlorine that naturally makes up a little part of each one of us) (Mari and Domingo, 2010) (incidentally, dioxins were in large part responsible for the toxic legacy of herbicide spraying during the Vietnam War, as they contaminated the widely used mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T that was designated Agent Orange)
- Spending a lot of time near a crematorium has been linked to health problems (Schauble and Rich, 1994; Dummer et al., 2003)

Void Salts
- Makes me think of potassium permanganate, a very dark purple salt that apparently is a big hit among survivalists since it can be used to purify water, disinfect wounds, and start fires
- Potassium permanganate enjoys taking electrons from other molecules (i.e. it is a strong oxidizing agent) and can thus cause substantial damage to electron-rich living things, making it good at killing microorganisms but also capable of causing serious burns (particularly to the eyes)
- Exposure to relatively large doses of potassium permanganate can cause brain damage, specifically a syndrome akin to Parkinson's disease due to the toxic effects of manganese (Iqbal et al., 2012)

Wheat
- A fundamental ingredient in many breads, beers, and pastas, plus whatever the heck All-Bran is
- Contains tiny amounts of benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium), but not nearly enough to make eating an entire loaf of bread before that important business presentation worth it (Wildmann et al., 1988)

Wisp Wrappings
- Obviously fictional, but might be similar to silver skin, the white layer of connective tissue that sometimes covers a cut of meat (it's tough and not particularly edible)
- Alternatively, y'know the gross bits of skin that you can peel off of chapped lips and recently burnt skin? If you collected those bits for years, carefully preserving them, and then meticulously sewed them together, I'm totally guessing you'd have a disgusting, yet close approximation of a wisp wrapping


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1 comment:

  1. Holy crap, you are amazing. I came here because I was looking up info about mushrooms that eat corpses and I found this gem. Very nice blog!

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